THE LESSONS OF
HISTORY - APRIL 29, 1992
exactly sixteen years ago today that the "impossible" happened in Sierra
Leone. On April 29, 1992 a certain little-known Captain Valentine
in a voice that was as emotional as it was agitated, told
national radio and the world's watching media that the more than six
year old regime of President Joseph Saidu Momoh had been overthrown and
that the soldiers were now taking over the administration of the
the overthrow was received with disbelief, but as it sunk in, there were
spontaneous scenes of jubilation all over the country as many realised
that for the first time in the 24-year history of APC-entrenched rule,
that government had at last been kicked out of power.
the APC out had been a terrible journey. Political opponents were either
murdered, jailed, harassed, tortured or forced to flee the country as
thugs parading under the Youth League and calling themselves "comrade"
gave free rein to all those who were willing and able to kill and maim
perceived opponents of the regime.
general elections and nomination days were a chapter in the history of
violence in the country as whole swathes of territory were declared
no-go areas to those suspected of supporting political opponents of the
party. Those who witnessed nominations in certain parts of the country
could still recall the movements of party thugs in hundreds of trucks
from one area of operation to the other and woe betide any who dared to
cross those lines demarcating the Mile 38 and Mile 47 areas!!
situation where the justice, police and military apparatus had been
compromised with the armed forces actually involved in the planning of
violence, one could only imagine what could have happened to those who
actually believed that the APC was interested in the rule of law and
opponents were not given any breather even after such violent-encrusted
nominations/elections. Those who dared to take election petitions to
court were forced to abandon any hope of receiving anything akin to
justice as deals were struck and favoured judges got appointed to
preside over sensitive matters.
It was in
this atmosphere that the level of corruption reached such a peak that
even to this day, many in government service see corruption as an
integral part of their work. The then State House and the seat of
corruption did not only witness the scenes of seedy and shady deals, but
it was within the halls and offices of this institution that for the
first time one Head of the Civil Service and Secretary to the then
President institutionalised corruption.
to "lucrative" areas were based on what was contained in the brief cases
that were presented to then Secretary to the President.
witness spoke about a meeting at the Riverside Drive residence of that
particular man, the Secretary to the President that is.
As usual a
number of the top civil servants working in the regions had just come to
town with their train of gifts in both cash and kind and after the first
batch had felt after courtesies, the wife was heard to comment on the
ungrateful attitude of one of the civil servants who could not cough up
enough and who was always shying away from visiting their home while in
Freetown. Another who had brought the first cordless telephone for his
boss left later with a promise to do more in certain areas after he was
criticised for not doing enough.
this apple-cart of corruption and graft that Strasser and his men
briefly upset by their bold and rather unexpected move. APC ministers
who had been told to report to the new men in power did so and were
subsequently released after confirmation of names and addresses.
them, the then Trade Minister who went as far as to have his name on the
USAID PL480 programme rice component, a certain Ben Kanu was heard
telling neighbours of his disappointment as "men whom he had put into
the military displayed such gross lack of respect and gratitude" as he
found his "castle" in Tengbe Town looted.
later they were all arrested and detained at the then maximum security
prison at Pademba Road.
would always be a watershed in the political fortunes of some echelons
of the APC party and demonstrated that a people pushed against the wall
have no other course open to them but to come out fighting.
effects of April 29 are still being felt by those who fed fat on the
country's wealth and resources while the poor continued to wallow in the
filth and mud of poverty and deprivation.
cadres who had hoped that the multi-party election promised by President
Momoh would see them having their turn in the feeding frenzy queue have
still not fully recovered and indeed could be the reason why some of
them joined the ranks of the AFRC/RUF coalition of evil in the hope that
at last they would sink their fangs into the nation's coffers.
of party operatives who had led the high life visiting any country of
their choice, massaging overseas bank accounts and selling off whatever
national property/treasure that came to hand with impunity saw the April
29 action as what finally stopped the gravy train as the unlimited
supply came to an abrupt end.
cunning ones like Abass Bundu, sat it out and plotted accordingly and in
the fullness of the clock joined the Strasser gang with whom many had
now become disenchanted as they openly courted the corrupt and amassed
their own piles of fortune. Abass Bundu, Dr, to give him his due title
eventually became Foreign minister despite warnings to the Strasser gang
that they could be treading dangerous waters.
then, Strasser and his men including Chief Secretary of State John
Benjamin had become too corrupt to hear the pleas and cries of the poor
and Bio's attempt to extend the life of the military government met with
such resistance from civilians that he was forced to yield.
there were those within the military who wanted to continue. Such was
the temptations of power and wealth and these included the likes of Tom
Nyuma and a young man called Idriss Kamara who had by then become a
colonel in the Armed Forces of the Republic of Sierra Leone.
29 mutineers could have later metamorphosed into what they stated they
were fighting against - poverty and corruption - but the history books
will never ignore the lessons of April 29 nor the human rights abuses
and atrocities committed by them and under their name.
(This article was first
published on April 29, 2009.
Please credit all photos to the BBC Focus on Africa magazine)